Braves Break-In New Stadium - A review by Colby Council
My first Atlanta Braves game was in the Summer of 1998 against the Montreal Expos (the current Washington Nationals for those of you who might be a little younger) and John Smoltz was on the hill. Two years after the 1996 Olympics, Turner Field had the look of an old-fashioned ball park, but the modern feel of the new trend of MLB stadiums. I never thought my first game at a new Braves stadium would be in Cobb County, but then again I don’t think anyone else did either. My first up-close look at the stadium wasn’t even for a game, it was the night before at The Battery Atlanta. The Battery is a year-round open mixed use development right outside SunTrust Park with shopping, restaurants, apartments, and soon-to-be-completed Omni Hotel. Arriving around 10 pm the first person I hear in the Battery is none other than the famous Atlanta rapper, T.I., playing a free post - game concert on the lawn right outside center field. The first thing that jumped out to me was how many people were there, yet how much room I had to move around. It was built to handle crowds and it did just that following a sold-out Saturday night Braves victory.
The first place we decided to check out was Sports & Social which is a part of Live! At The Battery Atlanta. A two- story sports bar and grill that is located directly across from the SunTrust Park right field gate. It’s impossible to walk in and not be immediately entertained. A giant, 30 foot, LED screen flanked by smaller screens ensures, that you will not miss a second of the game. Once you reach the top of the stairs you’ll see skeeball, ping pong, table hockey, a golf simulator, and a stage for live music. The second-floor balcony has a fantastic view of the Roxy Theater, SunTrust Park, and the rest of The Battery. I kept thinking the entire time I was there, “this is exactly what Braves fans have wanted for years,” and it felt great to be helping break it in with other fellow fans.
After enjoying The Battery the night before it was time to finally step foot inside SunTrust Park. There was a line to get in, something I seldom experienced at Turner Field even during sold out games. It was only a 5-minute wait, but this was a few minutes before first pitch. Crowd control is something I’m sure the Braves will experiment with going forward and most of it is credited to the crowd in The Battery before the game. SunTrust Park is a brand, spanking new stadium and you can tell the second you step foot inside. The walkways are clean, the walls have no stains, and it was well lit. The area from the top row of seats and the food vendors is a little narrower than Turner Field, so the walk is a tad more crowded than I’m used to (I checked out the vendors and the prices have remained about the same so don’t get your hopes up). Our seats were in the third level terrace behind the left field foul pole so it was decent walk all the way from right field. The moment you sit down you understand how much better a “baseball only” stadium is than one like Turner Field that was converted from Olympic Stadium. It felt like I was looking down on the left fielder from my point of view. I’m not crazy about the green seats or green walls, but I got over it because the new seats are much more comfortable than the old ones. Instead of a blue rail to protect people from falling over at the bottom of the section, this stadium has glass dividers so you can see the action clearly instead of through metal bars. Unlike Turner Field, where it took about 5 minutes to send a picture to someone, the wifi here is lightning fast. Apparently from what I have read, the internet is so fast that everyone in a sold-out crowd could simultaneously play a video on their phones and there would be no lag. You’ll need that speed so you can share pictures of the beautiful view SunTrust Park provides. There is a great view of the new office buildings in the Battery and the future Omni Hotel located in center field. It’s not downtown Atlanta, like what Braves fans are used, but it’s nice to look at nonetheless.
At the end of the 6th inning we decided to head to the Chop House and explore the park. On our way over we walked through Monument Grove behind section 125. If you’re a Braves fan or just a baseball fan in general you will absolutely love this exhibit. Turner Field had a museum you had to pay for that had tons of historical baseball artifacts, but not much of a personality. The Atlanta Braves are the “oldest continuously operating professional sports franchise in America” and they have the history to show for it. If the Hank Aaron statue doesn’t impress you at first sight then nothing else will. Every retired number for the Braves franchise is hanging on a stone wall with fountains behind to give it the proper vibe. Across from the numbers, you’ll find Cy Young awards, Silver Sluggers, Golden Gloves, and MVP trophies. For the baseball history buffs out there, the franchise timeline will keep you occupied while you follow their journey from Boston to Milwaukee and Milwaukee to Atlanta. One thing that stuck out as we were leaving was the jersey of Babe Ruth when he played his lone year with the Boston Braves in 1935. Yes, The Great Bambino’s jersey is on display at SunTrust Park. As you leave Monument Grove you’ll see flags near the rafters with every Braves Hall of Famer on either side of them. For a stadium that is only a few weeks old, it already oozes with history.
The last stop I made in the stadium was the revamped Chop House in right field. It was the perfect spot to watch the last three innings of afternoon baseball. A much more spacious and convenient amenity, the Chop Deck (top level) has more room for you to stand and move around. It even has a second row a couple steps below the top deck to allow more people to watch the action. The Chop Terrace (2nd level) are seats and table tops only available with tickets, but they have chilled cup holders and that will come in handy during a Georgia summer. Finally, at the bottom of the Chop House, you have Below the Chop which includes a field level view behind the right field wall. I couldn’t see it up close and personal since they’re reserved for groups, but it’s on my bucket list. After Inciarte went deep to right field in the 7th inning we knew this was the perfect spot to watch the Braves bust it open on Easter Sunday. Heck, we even made it on the highlights for the home run.
I’ll miss the nostalgia and memories from Turner Field, but that’s about it. When it comes to fan experience, amenities, sight lines, and aesthetics I’ll go with SunTrust Park from here on out.